Less than three years ago, Nick Foles was living a video game moment. Seven touchdown passes in a November win against the Oakland Raiders; a perfect passer rating; and a request from the Pro Football Hall of Fame that his jersey be shipped to Canton for display. By the end of that surprising 2013 season, one executive within the Philadelphia Eagles franchise suggested to team owner Jeffrey Lurie that Foles was worth an elite quarterback contract.
In 2016? Foles spent the past six months on the trading block, attainable for as little as a late-round draft pick, and the Los Angeles Rams found no takers.
Foles was released late last month, and will sign with the Kansas City Chiefs, according to NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo. His role in K.C. will be simple: hold a clipboard, learn the offense and prepare for a worst-case scenario. That’s what Foles represents now. The once-surprising second-year player who threw 27 touchdowns and only two interceptions in 2013 is now a 27-year-old journeyman headed for his third team in three seasons. And his current team might need to reset his game and mindset entirely.
How did Foles fall so far so quickly? After speaking to multiple personnel evaluators who viewed Foles firsthand since that 2013 season, it might be worth approaching that question from a different angle. Specifically, how did Foles rise so quickly, and was the success real?
As one evaluator put it, 2013 may have just been the “perfect storm” for Foles’ limited success. One that dialed up unrealistic expectations on a player who had significant development remaining.
Interestingly, another pro personnel executive who did an evaluation on Foles pointed at his memorable seven-touchdown game against the Raiders as being an example of numbers distorting reality. Creating almost a myth.
“Throwing [seven touchdowns] – it’s beyond unusual,” he said. “[But] I think most coaches would agree that it’s more likely to happen now than any other point in history. So you have that in your mind when you’re clicking through his tape. Then you look at that [Raiders defense]. How many are still starters three years later? How many are still in the league? You have to look at that kind of thing. …
“Then look at the seven [scoring] plays. I see it the same way I would look at a college quarterback. What is on the other side of the ball and what is attributable to the offense, versus what is attributable to the quarterback’s ability being the difference?”
When the executive looked at that Raiders game, he thought Foles played well, but saw an Oakland defense that looked overwhelmed and incapable. Three starters from that defense were out of the league following 2013. Of the other eight, only safety Charles Woodson and cornerback Tracy Porter (with the Chicago Bears) proved to be quality players through 2015. The rest were either backups elsewhere or (in the case of cornerback D.J. Hayden) a much-maligned starter.
Looking back at how the seven touchdowns occurred says something, too. Cornerbacks fell down on two of the plays, leaving wideouts open for fairly easy scores. Another touchdown was a swing pass to LeSean McCoy, who took the ball up the sideline and manufactured a score. One touchdown was the result of a properly executed pick play by a wide receiver, freeing up a tight end for a score. Another touchdown was horribly played by a cornerback who otherwise should have been in position to make a play on the pass.
Of the seven scores, Foles stands out on two: a pair of intermediate throws when Foles used his mobility to get outside of the pocket and manipulate the Raiders into errors. That’s not to say Foles didn’t make good or correct throws on the other touchdowns. But all appeared to be aided by egregious defensive mistakes that weren’t the result of something done by Foles.
The point in all of that? A seven-touchdown game and perfect passer rating might look like a quarterback playing out of his mind … and at second glance, it might not. And that has been part of what has dogged Foles since. One evaluator familiar with him said Foles was aided by teams facing Chip Kelly’s offense for the first time. When that unfamiliarity passed, it exposed more of the quarterbacking flaws moving forward.
What became clear to staffs in both Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Rams was as time went on, Foles became a hesitant player. Members of both staffs said the same thing, that his mid-range game suffered, often by overthinking, indecision or simply being afraid to make a bad play or mistake. Even in his best times, Kelly was often on top of Foles for his penchant to hesitate rather than “grip it and rip it.”
That, one evaluator said, will be the biggest hurdle going forward, no matter where Foles lands. Thinking less, trusting himself more, and not waiting to see an open man to throw a football.
“Patience,” the executive said of Foles’ biggest requirement for reclaiming his previous form. “There’s probably a little bit of a shutdown and rewiring ahead with a staff that has time to invest in his confidence. … I don’t know if [the 2013 level of play] is something you want to be shooting for right off the bat. I think Nick needs some daily wins [in practice] to start building up again.”
Whatever happens, the video game moment has long passed. While Foles will be reaching for a pen and a new contract next, the Chiefs may be reaching for a reset button.